Reprise: Archives Collections Management Applications—the Buy versus Build Conundrum

Posted by: Merv Richter – Founder and Former CEO, Eloquent Systems

During my years leading Eloquent Systems (now a Lucidea company) and as a provider of collections management software for heritage institutions, I often spoke with my archives clients about the merits of buying purpose-built software rather than relying on a system built in-house—or going the open-source route. In my opinion, Lucidea speaks to that conundrum really well with this blog post.

In discussions with our archives clients, we at Lucidea often hear this: “I’m using a system that an old colleague built for me and it doesn’t work well. There’s no documentation, and the guy who built it is no longer with our organization.” Why is this a problem? Let us count the ways.
When archivists are forced to work with inadequate collections management software, they spend a great deal of time working around problems, repeating the same tasks over and over, and even setting up alternative databases to deal with data that the system cannot accommodate. All the while feeling the looming presence of an ever-growing backlog, and the nagging concern that they aren’t meeting professional archiving standards.

What’s your problem?

What you have here is a “buy versus build” scenario, where the choice at one point was to build, with all its resultant problems. When the “old colleague” leaves your organization, you aren’t simply without documentation. You are without upgrades, enhancements and updates, and usually without a way for someone else to improve the system in anything resembling a cost-and-time effective manner.

The obvious (?) solution

Here is the point at which going the open source route begins to look attractive…but it’s important to understand that this is really just another version of “build.” Why?
Because even if you choose open source (which is free up front), a great deal of work must be done to get the software working the way you need it to. If you don’t have the resources on staff, you’ll need a consultant—often for quite a long time. And as with any application, it will need to be updated periodically by a qualified developer. Since the software is already built, anyone who assists you with making it work for you, in your organization, will be doing implementation, maintenance and customization, all of which will require significant involvement and continued effort from… you.

How about this?

One solution to the buy versus build conundrum is to partner with an archives collections management solution vendor who:

  • Is familiar with today’s archiving challenges (and can anticipate tomorrow’s)
  • Offers a feature-rich, purpose-built system that’s a result of extensive client input and focused R&D

And who, most importantly, is going to be there tomorrow.

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